Why an Ultimate Guide to Agile?
If you work in the software sector, you most certainly work in an Agile environment or a hybrid of the two.
But do you know what Agile is, where it originated from, and how it's used?
What about Kanban and Scrum?
You may have come across these two terms.
Do you understand how they connect to Agile?
Product managers collaborate with their customers to identify important pain areas, prioritize them, and design solutions to these problems.
However, how can these solutions progress from issue characterization to actual products that provide value to the lives of consumers and users?
Agile software development approaches are used to accomplish this.
To close the loop and demonstrate how software development teams collaborate with product managers to take a solution from idea to delivery, we decided to produce The Ultimate Guide to Agile.
While there are several online sites that discuss various Agile issues, this extensive and complete guide will save you time searching through them and provide you with all you need to know.
This tutorial will cover the following major topics:
- What is Agile
- Scrum software development and how it works
- Kanban and how it works
- Agile certification
- Enterprise Agile Frameworks
- Agile tools
- And more
Three Major Software Development Frameworks
Many people believe that Agile just applies to the development team. This is a common misconception.
Product managers also play an important role in Agile processes, as they collaborate closely with their teams to ensure that their key stakeholders get the value they expect from the product and that they release features and upgrades that help their firm accomplish its objectives.
Before we go into Agile, it's vital to understand the three major software development frameworks.
These three frameworks are as follows:
- Wagile (a hybrid approach of both waterfall and agile)
The Agile Methodology
What exactly is Agile?
While Waterfall is a linear, rigid, and sequential software development method, Agile is more flexible and iterative. With Agile, a team works within set timeframes (sprints or cycles) to offer incremental solutions that are supposed to enhance products while keeping the customer's demands in mind.
With the customer's current demands in mind, adjustments to the product are developed based on post-release input from consumers.
While Agile is defined by its flexibility, acceptance of change, and ability to make rapid adjustments when necessary, the most significant aspect of Agile is its emphasis on the customer and their demands.
On February 12, 2001, a group of 17 people gathered in Snowbird, Utah's ski resort to debate and establish common ground. The goal of this gathering was straightforward: to find a better approach to create software.
Representatives from Pragmatic Programming, Extreme Programming, Scrum, Adaptive Software Development, and other disciplines attended this meeting.
What was the outcome of their many discussions?
The Agile Software Development Manifesto. This manifesto is a collection of concepts outlining the Agile ethos. It reads:
"By doing it and helping others do it, we are discovering better ways of producing software."
This effort has taught us to value:
- People and their interactions over procedures and tools
- Useful software over extensive documentation
- Customer involvement in contract negotiations
- Responding to change by sticking to a plan
That is, while the goods on the list are valuable, "We regard the items on the left higher than those on the right."
You may read the manifesto here. The original website is still up and running.
Let's take a closer look at these values.
1. People and their interactions with procedures and tools
Individuals are responsible for responding to business requirements and driving the development process. When processes and tools drive development, teams become less adaptable to change. As a result, you will be unable to satisfy the demands of your users.
Understanding user requirements is gained via interaction with persons rather than focusing over processes and technologies.
2. Useful software over extensive documentation
A disproportionate amount of time is spent on delivery paperwork, notably the Product Requirement Document (PRD), which is largely depended on in Waterfall. A PRD defines all of a product's characteristics and capabilities to verify that it is ready for release.
If a feature is stated in the PRD but is not included in the product, the product is not launched.
The lengthy amount of needed documents creates considerable development delays, which may be expensive given that market circumstances can and do change. Documentation is necessary, and Agile does not strive to eliminate it totally.
Agile leaner documentation is created, which describes the team's issue statements, user stories, and technical requirements. This gives the team the information they need to get started on their task without becoming bogged down in unnecessary details.
Documentation is useful, but getting started with functional software is more beneficial.
3. Customer involvement in contract negotiations
Product managers should engage and work with their consumers on a regular basis. This entails incorporating them into the product development process. This makes it easy for a team to confirm their assumptions and garner product evangelists when the product is out.
Customers are regularly included in the product development process using Agile and shown work progressively for validation.
4. Responding to change by sticking to a plan
Agile makes it easy to adjust priorities from iteration to iteration since iterations are short. With each iteration, bugs may be solved, improvements can be made, and new features can be added. Changes usually enhance a product because they bring value. It is the product manager's responsibility to establish and quantify the value that these modifications will provide.
Agile's 12 guiding principles
Agile includes 12 principles that stem from its four core ideals.
These are the principles:
- Our first aim is to satisfy the client by delivering valuable software on time and on a consistent basis.
- Accept changing needs, especially if they emerge late in the development process. Agile methods use change for the benefit of the customer's competitive advantage.
- Deliver functioning software on a regular basis, from a few weeks to a few months, with a preference for the shorter duration.
- Throughout the project, business people and developers must collaborate on a regular basis.
- Build initiatives around motivated people. Give them the atmosphere and support they require, and trust them to do the task.
- Face-to-face communication is the most efficient and effective way of transmitting information to and within a development team.
- The key indicator of progress is functional software.
- Agile procedures foster long-term growth. Sponsors, developers, and consumers should be able to keep up the pace indefinitely.
- Continuous focus on technical excellence and smart design improves agility.
- Simplicity, or the art of minimizing the amount of effort done, is critical.
- Self-organizing teams produce the finest architectures, requirements, and designs.
- The team reflects on how to become more effective at regular intervals, then tweaks and adapts its behavior accordingly.
The Advantages of Agile Software Development
Now that we have a better knowledge of Agile and how it differs from Waterfall, let us go through its numerous advantages.
1. Lower risk
Following Agile decreases the possibility of total failure by providing an initial MVP to the market that focuses on the most valuable input, collecting timely feedback, and having incremental sprints.
This is when teams aspire to have a functional product by the end of the first sprint.
If there are failures, the team can fail quickly and make necessary modifications based on trustworthy data from consumers who have received and tested the product.
2. Boosted consumer satisfaction
Customers may receive the initial MVP as well as further upgrades sooner with each incremental release thanks to quicker releases.
The team may show working functionality to their clients through regular sprint reviews, and key stakeholders can remain involved throughout the product development process.
3. More predictable costs and timelines
Each work session (sprint or cycle) in Agile has a predetermined duration. This results in a more predictable cost that is restricted to the amount of work that the team can complete every sprint.
Clients will know the estimated cost of the work to be accomplished inside that specific sprint prior to each sprint for those who operate within an agency, for example. This also aids in decision-making on the priority of solutions and the necessity for more iterations.
4. Better product quality
Daily testing during the development process helps the development team to identify and fix issues as they arise. Agile's modest incremental releases expand on previously tested features.
For continual software quality, each release is tested and confirmed. In addition, doing regular retrospectives allows teams to improve their work. This is true as long as the input from these sessions is taken seriously.
5. Additional project management
The team and key stakeholders are clear on how work is proceeding, the obstacles that exist, and what comes next. Furthermore, the regular sprint meetings (Scrum) make it easy for the team to analyze where they are and where they are going.
6. Metrics that are relevant
Agile software development metrics for estimating time, cost, and measuring performance for data-informed decisions are more relevant and accurate than metrics for traditional projects. With Agile, you can properly forecast what to expect next based on the team's actual performance (based on how the team performed in previous cycles/sprints).
Similarly, once the task is completed, you may modify the projected effort, time, and cost on a regular basis as the team learns more and becomes more comfortable with their work.
7. Improved team morale
Being a member of a self-managing team helps people to be creative, inventive, and recognized for their knowledge. In addition, having cross-functional work allows team members to gain new skills and progress by teaching others, as opposed to the sequential and isolated approach of Waterfall software development.
Everyone collaborates rather than working in isolation. Finally, releasing a functional product to clients and instantly getting their good feedback enhances the team's morale.
What more could a team want than to have their efforts rewarded by their customers?
With all of these advantages, what are some of the disadvantages of Agile?
1. May result in reactive development
One of the criticisms leveled towards Agile is that it leads to reactive development. This has a ring of truth about it. This is due to the fact that a team may develop what people want today rather than creating a roadmap and keeping a product vision for what they may require in the future.
However, if this is the case, it is the product manager's issue, not Agile's. It is their role to manage the roadmap and guarantee that customers and users not only obtain value from the product now, but will continue to receive value in the future.
One thing to remember is that Agile is focused on production rather than discovery. Dual-Track Agile enables product teams to add a discovery track and prioritize problem comprehension.
2. More occupied product managers
Product managers are kept busy with the numerous activities that must be completed during the week while using Agile software development. On a weekly level, product managers already have a lot on their plates.
Their responsibilities include, but are not limited to, gathering and prioritizing customer feedback, defining problem statements and hypotheses for the problems they want to solve, preparing stakeholders for product launches, and maintaining the product roadmap.
Product managers must manage their teams as they explore, design, create, launch, and iterate on feedback for each version of their product(s).
Why Agile is beneficial to product managers
What advantages does Agile offer to product managers in particular? For starters, it allows them to bring a product to market faster and get input from their consumers. Customer input and data will be used to enhance a product once it has been released.
With Agile, a functioning product is delivered and then enhanced incrementally.
After the product is out, a product manager will meet with customers and users to get feedback, review KPIs, and prioritize what to provide next in order to continue improving.
Regardless of the software development methodology used to deploy Agile, product managers are still responsible for:
- Creating and updating the product roadmap
- Communicating to their team about product priorities and functional needs
- Answering any queries their team may have when the task is completed
- Removing any impediments and establishing transparency throughout the design and development process
- Prior to release, define "done" and ensure that the acceptance criteria are satisfied.
- Communicating with clients and obtaining input to enhance the solution once it has been launched
Product managers' responsibilities remain the same whether Agile is used or not.
What exactly is Kanban?
Kanban is a software development framework for applying Agile. It was created by Toyota. Yes, the automobile manufacturer. Toyota created Kanban after analyzing how grocery shelves were stocked.
They noted that supermarkets strived to be "just in time," which means that their shelves aren't always overflowing with outdated or discarded food. Rather, they would be stocked with fresh food for people to purchase at the appropriate moment.
Toyota perfected this approach for creating automobiles over time, and it is currently utilized in the software business to produce software.
Kanban's rules are not as "strict" as Scrum's. This means that there aren't as many clearly defined rituals. One fundamental feature that distinguishes Kanban from Scrum is the absence of sprints. Kanban use cycles instead.
A Kanban team will have a set timeline for releasing new functioning code (for example every 2nd Monday). When the date arrives, everything done by that date (in the "Done" column) is deployed.
The Kanban system
The Kanban board is the primary tool in Kanban. A Kanban board comprises four main columns.
- In Progress
Some firms and teams may name their columns differently or add extra columns, so you may see variants of these columns. This is completely acceptable and, in fact, encouraged if necessary.
Modify the processes as needed to meet the demands of your team. Each column contains tickets that detail the work that has to be done.
What is the Kanban workflow?
Kanban allows just a limited number of tickets to be active at any given moment. The amount of tickets is determined by the team. A team will learn how many they can manage with time and expertise. When using Kanban, the implementation team will select a ticket from the To Do list, work on it, and then advance it down the columns as it proceeds.
So a ticket like "Enable login with Facebook" will start in the Backlog (or the To Do column) and progress to Done once completed.
Backlog > Work in Progress > Tested > Completed
Once a developer has marked a ticket as done, they can move on to the next item in the queue. And so the cycle goes on. Kanban does not require any specific meetings, unlike Scrum does.
However, a team can schedule repeated meetings if necessary, especially if they are using Scrumban (Scrum processes mixed with Kanban).
A product manager will be responsible for working with their development team to prioritize the backlog and ensuring that the most critical things are at the top when using Kanban.
When a developer completes their job, they will know exactly what to work on next.
Kanban focus on cycle time
The cycle time is the time it takes a developer to finish their task (from picking it up In Progress to Done). While cycle time is tracked and teams always aim to improve their production, it is crucial to realize that various factors can influence cycle time.
For example, if a developer lacks domain expertise on how to accomplish a specific feature and requires time to conduct research, the cycle time will increase. One solution is to create separate tickets for the research aspect of this activity.
Kanban's advantages and disadvantages
Kanban, like Scrum, encourages and facilitates continuous development. When the deadline for the next release is met, all of the work in the Done column is delivered. If there are products that are nearly finished but not quite ready, they are not included in the release.
Customers will continue to get an enhanced solution at predetermined intervals, allowing for continuous delivery and instant consumer feedback. While Kanban is unquestionably more flexible than Scrum, it does present certain difficulties in determining the time necessary to build each item.
However, tracking this information is considerably easier with the correct tools. Kanban can be advantageous for development teams since it allows for greater flexibility. Kanban features fewer meetings than Scrum, which provides engineers more time to focus on solving difficult challenges.
Kanban, on the other hand, can be taxing for product managers. Product managers, like Scrum masters, must regularly manicure the backlog. Even more so with Kanban, because as developers finish their jobs and are ready to move on to the next item, they need to know what the next highest priority item is.
The backlog should always be managed such that the most important item is at the top. Product managers must avoid becoming bottlenecks in their teams. Another distinction between Scrum and Kanban is that in a Scrum team, if a developer completes their assignment ahead of schedule, they may utilize the extra time to help others in their team (rather than move onto their next ticket).
This is because the entire team works together to achieve the sprint goal (s). So, unless there's a compelling cause, they won't take on another item from the backlog until the next sprint officially begins.
When a developer completes their current ticket in Kanban, they pick up the next priority item in the queue and begin working on it.
When Should You Use Kanban?
When should you use Kanban instead of Scrum or another Agile framework? Kanban is an excellent choice for teams who are less concerned about estimates. Similarly, for teams who are primarily focused with completing tasks and deploying as soon as feasible. For example, a development team whose primary focus is on customer service and bug fixes. Rather than following the Scrum methods and spending time obtaining precise estimates for each ticket, utilize a Kanban board to track the needed work and fix defects as soon as feasible.
Agile software development has transformed how teams build products in the modern technology landscape. By adopting an iterative approach focused on constant collaboration, early feedback, and the ability to respond to change, Agile helps teams deliver higher quality products that meet customer needs.
This guide provided an in-depth look at the origins of Agile and its core values - valuing individuals over processes, working software over documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a plan. We explored some of the most popular Agile frameworks like Scrum and Kanban, explaining how they help teams work in short cycles to deliver incremental value.
While Agile has many benefits like lowering risk, boosting customer satisfaction, and improving team morale, it also comes with challenges like the potential for reactive development and increased demands on product managers. Ultimately, Agile empowers cross-functional teams to build better products through transparency, inspection, and adaptation. With the right processes and leadership in place, Agile enables organizations to thrive in fast-paced, ever-changing markets.
Whether you are a product manager, developer, tester, or business stakeholder, understanding Agile values and principles is key to transforming how your teams build outstanding digital products.
This guide provided a comprehensive introduction, but there is always more to learn. Continue expanding your Agile knowledge and find ways to implement iterative delivery that fits your team and company context.
With dedication to continuous improvement through reflection and adaptation, Agile methodologies can help your organization deliver better business outcomes.